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Pablo Neruda

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Pablo Neruda as a Presidential candidate in 1970

Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904September 23, 1973) was the pen name of the Chilean writer Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basualto, considered one of the greatest Spanish-language poets of the 20th century. He was a prolific writer, and his output ranged from erotically-charged love poems, surrealist poems, historical epics, and overtly political poems, to poems on common things, such nature and the sea. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez has called him "the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language". In 1971, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

During his lifetime, Neruda was renowned for his strong political beliefs. An outspoken communist, he briefly served as a senator for the Communist Party of Chile in the Chilean Congress before being forced into exile.

Neruda's pen name was taken from Czech writer and poet Jan Neruda; it later became his legal name.

Contents

Life

Early years

Neruda was born in Parral, a city some 300 km to the south of Santiago. His father, José del Carmen Reyes Morales, was a railway employee; his mother, Rosa Neftalí Basoalto Opazo, was a schoolteacher who died two months after he was born. Neruda and his father soon moved to Temuco, where his father married Trinidad Candia Malverde, a woman with whom he had had a child nine years earlier, a boy named Rodolfo. Neruda also grew up with his half-sister Laura, one of his father's children by another woman.

Young Neruda was called "Neftalí", his late mother's maiden name. His interest in writing and literature was opposed by his father, but he received encouragement from others, including future Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral, who headed the local girls' school. His first published work was an essay he wrote at age thirteen, "Entusiasmo y perseverancia" ("Enthusiasm and Perseverance"), for the local daily newspaper, La Mañana. By 1920, when he adopted the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda, he was a published author of poetry, prose, and journalism.

Veinte poemas

The next year, he moved to Santiago to study French at the Universidad de Chile with the intent of becoming a teacher, but soon devoted himself fulltime to poetry. In 1923, his first volume of verse, Crepusculario ("Book of Twilights"), was published, followed the next year by Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada ("Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair"), a collection of love poems that was controversial for its eroticism. Both works were critically acclaimed and were translated into many languages. Over the decades, Veinte poemas would sell millions of copies and become Neruda's most best-known work.

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Neruda's peculiar house in Isla Negra (Chile's central coast) is now a museum

Neruda's reputation was growing both inside and outside of Chile, but he was plagued by poverty. In 1927, out of desperation, he took an honorary consulship in Rangoon, then a part of colonial Burma and a place of which he had never before heard. Later, he worked stints in Colombo (Ceylon), Batavia (Java), and Singapore. In Java, he met and married his first wife, a tall Dutch bank employee named Maryka Antonieta Hagenaar Vogelzang. While on diplomatic service, Neruda read large amounts of poetry and experimented with many different poetic forms. He wrote the first two volumes of Residencia en la tierra, which included many surrealistic poems which later became famous.

Spanish Civil War

After returning to Chile, Neruda was given diplomatic posts in Buenos Aires and then Barcelona, Spain. He later replaced Gabriela Mistral as consul in Madrid, where he became the center of a lively literary circle, befriending such writers as Rafael Alberti, Federico García Lorca and the Peruvian poet César Vallejo. A daughter, Malva Marina Trinidad, was born in Madrid who was plagued with health problems for the entirety of her short life. During this period, he became slowly estranged from his wife and took up with Delia del Carril, an Argentinian woman who was twenty years his senior and would eventually become his second wife.

As Spain became engulfed in civil war, Neruda became profoundly politicized for the first time. His experiences of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath moved him away from individualistic, inwardly focused work towards social commitment and greater solidarity. Neruda became an ardent communist, and remained so for the rest of his life. The radical leftist politics of his literary friends, as well as that of del Carril, were contributing factors, but the most important catalyst was the execution of García Lorca by Francisco Franco's forces. He threw his support to the Republican side through his speeches and writing and would publish a collection of poetry called España en el corazón ("Spain in My Heart"). Neruda’s wife and child went to Monte Carlo; he would never see either of them again. He took up full time with del Carril in France.

Following the election of President Pedro Aguirre Cerda in 1938, whom Neruda supported, he was appointed special consul for Spanish emigration in Paris. There Neruda was given responsibility for what he called "the noblest mission I have ever undertaken," shipping 2,000 Spanish refugees housed by the French in squalid camps to Chile on an old boat called the Winnipeg. Neruda is sometimes charged with strongly favoring Stalinists for emigration while excluding others who had fought on the side of the Republic; others deny these accusations. Neruda chose only a few hundred of the refugees personally; the rest were selected by the Service for the Evacuation of Spanish Refugees, set up by Juan Negrín, president of the Spanish Republican government-in-exile.

Neruda's next diplomatic post was as Consul General in Mexico City, where he spent the years 1940 to 1943. While in Mexico, he divorced Hagenaar, married del Carril, and learned that his daughter had died in Nazi-occupied Holland at age eight from her many health problems.

After the failed 1940 assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky, Neruda arranged a Chilean visa for Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, accused of being one of the conspirators, at the request of Mexican President Manuel Ávila Camacho. This enabled Siqueiros, then jailed, to leave Mexico for Chile, where he stayed at Neruda's private residence. In exchange for Neruda's assistance, Siqueiros spent over a year painting a mural in a school in Chillán. In his memoirs, Neruda dismissed the allegations that his intent was to help an assassin as "sensationalist politico-literary harassment".

In 1943, on his return to Chile, Neruda visited Peru, where he toured Machu Picchu. The austere beauty of the Inca citadel later inspired Alturas de Macchu Picchu, a book-length poem in twelve parts which he completed in 1945 and marked a growing awareness and interest in the ancient civilizations of the Americas, themes he further explored in Canto general. In the work, Neruda celebrated the achievement of Machu Picchu, but also condemned the slavery which made it possible. In the Canto XII, he called upon the dead of many centuries to be born again and to speak through him. Martin Espada, poet and professor of creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, has hailed the work as a masterpiece, saying "there is no greater political poem".

Bolstered by his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Neruda, like many left-leaning intellectuals of his generation, came to admire the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin, partly for the role it played in defeating Nazi Germany. On Stalin's death in 1953, Neruda wrote an ode to him, which is now considered one of his least effective works. Neruda later came to rue his support of the Russian leader; after Nikita Khrushchev's famous Secret Speech 20th Party Congress in 1956 in which he denounced the "cult of personality" that surrounded Stalin and accused him of commiting crimes during the Great Purges, he wrote in his memoirs "I had contributed to my share to the personality cult," explaining, "in those days, Stalin seemed to us the conqueror who crushed Hitler's armies". Of a subsequent visit to China in 1957, Neruda would later write: "What has estranged me from the Chinese revolutionary process has not been Mao Tse-tung but Mao Tse-tungism", what he dubbed Mao Tse-Stalinism, "the repetition of a cult of a Socialist deity". However, despite his disillusionment with Stalin, Neruda never lost his essential faith in communism and remained loyal to the "Party". Anxious not to give amunition to his ideological enemies, he would later refuse to publically condemn Soviet repression of dissident writers, such as Boris Pasternak and Joseph Brodsky, an attitude even some of his staunchest admirers disagreed with.

Senator

On March 4, 1945 he was elected a Communist party senator for northern provinces Antofagasta and Tarapacá in the arid and inhospitable Atacama Desert. He officially joined the Communist Party of Chile four months later.

In 1946, Radical Party presidential candidate Gabriel González Videla asked Neruda to act as his campaign manager. Videla was supported by a coalition of left-wing parties and Neruda fervently campaigned on his behalf. Once in office, however, Videla turned against the Communist Party. The breaking point for Senator Neruda was the violent repression of a Communist-led miner's strike in Lota in October 1947, where striking workers were herded into island military prisons and a concentration camp in the town of Pisagua. Neruda's criticism of Videla culminated in a dramatic speech in the Chilean senate on January 6, 1948 called "Yo acuso" ("I accuse"), in which he read the names of the miners and their families who were imprisoned at the concentration camp.

Exile

A few weeks later, Neruda went into hiding and he and his wife were smuggled from house to house, hidden by supporters and admirers for the next thirteen months. While in hiding, Senator Neruda was removed from office and in September 1948 the Communist Party was banned altogether under the Ley de Defensa Permenente de la Democracia (Law for the Permanent Defense of Democracy), called by critics the "Ley Maldita" ("Accursed Law"), which eliminated over 26 thousand people from the electoral registers, thus stripping them of the right to vote. Neruda's life underground ended in March 1949 when he fled over the Andes Mountains to Argentina on horseback, nearly drowning while crossing the Curringue River. He would dramatically recount his escape from Chile in his Nobel Prize lecture.

Once out of Chile, he would spend the next three years in exile. In Buenos Aires, a friend of Neruda, the future Nobel winner and novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias, was cultural attaché to the Guatemalan embassy. There was some slight resemblance between the two men, so Neruda went to Europe with Asturias' passport. Pablo Picasso arranged his entrance into Paris and Neruda made a surprise appearance to a stunned World Congress of Peace Forces while the Chilean government denied that the poet could have escape the country.

Neruda spent those three years travelling extensively throughout Europe as well as taking trips to India, China, and the USSR. His trip to Mexico in late 1949 was lengthened due to a serious bout of phlebitis. A Chilean singer named Matilde Urrutia was hired to care for him and they began an affair that would years later culminate in marriage. During his exile, she would travel from country to country shadowing him and they would arrange meetings when they could.

While in Mexico he also published his lengthy epic poem Canto General, a Whitmanesque catalog of the history, geography, and flora and fauna of South America, along with Neruda's observations and experiences. Many of them dealt with his time underground in Chile, which is when he composed much of the poem. In fact, he carried the manuscript with him on his escape on horseback. A month afterwards, a different edition of five thousand copies was boldly published in Chile by the outlawed Communist Party based on a manuscript Neruda had left behind.

His 1952 stay in a villa owned by Italian historian Edwin Cerio on the island of Capri was fictionalized in the popular film Il Postino ("The Postman", 1994).

Return to Chile

By 1952, the González-Videla dictatorship was on its last legs, weakened by corruption scandals. The Chilean Socialist Party was in the process of nominating Salvador Allende at its candidate for the September 1952 presidential elections and was keen to have the presence of Neruda — by now Chile's most prominent left-wing literary figure — to support the campaign.

Neruda returned in August of that year and rejoined Delia del Carril, who had travelled ahead of him some months earlier, but the marriage was crumbling. Del Carril eventually learned of his torrid affair with Mathilde Urritia and left him in 1955, moving back to Europe. Now united with Urritia, Neruda would spend the rest of his life in Chile, many foreign trips notwithstanding and a stint as Allende's ambassador to France from 1970 to 1973.

By this time, Neruda enjoyed worldwide fame as a poet, and his books were being translated into virtually all the major languages of the world. He was also vocal on political issues, vigorously denouncing the U.S. during the Cuban missile crisis (later in the decade he would likewise repeatedly condemn the U.S. for the Vietnam War. But being one of the most prestigious and outspoken leftwing intellectuals alive also attracted opposition from ideological opponents. The Congress for Cultural Freedom, an anti-communist organization covertly established and funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, adopted Neruda as one of its primary targets and launched a campaign to undermine his reputation, reviving the old claim he had been an acomplice in the attack on Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940. The campaign became more intense when it became known that Neruda was a candidate for the 1964 Nobel prize, which was eventually awarded to Jean-Paul Sartre.

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Neruda recording poems at the Library of Congress in 1966

In 1966, Neruda was invited to attend an International PEN conference in New York City. Officially, he was barred from entering the U.S. because he was a communist, but the conference organizer, playwright Arthur Miller, eventually prevailed upon the Johnson Adminstration to grant Neruda a visa. Neruda gave readings to packed halls, and even recorded some poems for the Library of Congress. Miller later opined that Neruda's adherence to his communist ideals of the 1930s was a result of his protracted exclusion from "bourgeois society". Due to the presence of many East Bloc writers, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes later wrote that the PEN conference marked a "beginning of the end" of the Cold War.

Upon Neruda's return to Chile, he stopped off in Peru, where he gave readings to enthusiastic crowds in Lima and Arequipa and was received by President Fernando Belaúnde Terry. However, the visit prompted a unpleasant backlash. The Peruvian government had come out against government in Cuba of Fidel Castro, and in July 1966 retaliation against Neruda came in the form of a letter signed by more than one hundred Cuban intellectuals who charged Neruda with colluding with the enemy, and called him a example of the "tepid, pro-Yankee revisionism" then prevalent in Latin America. The affair was particularly painful for Neruda because of his previous outspoken support for the Cuban revolution, and he never visited the island again, even after an invitation in 1968.

After the death of Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967, Neruda wrote several articles regretting the loss of a "great hero", but privately he condemned Guevara's adventurism.

Final years

In 1970, Neruda was nominated as a candicate for president, but later ended up giving his support to Salvador Allende who won the election and was inaugurated in 1970 as the first democratically elected socialist head of state. Shortly thereafter Neruda took up his final diplomatic posting, in Paris, but returned to Chile two and half years later because of failing health.

As 1973 unfolded, Neruda, then deathly ill from prostate cancer, was devasted by the mounting attacks on the Allende government and the final military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet on 11 September in which he saw his hopes for a socialist Chile literally go up in flames. Shortly thereafter, during a search of the house and grounds at Isla Negra by Chilean armed forces troups at which he was present, Neruda famously remarked: "Look around — there's only one thing of danger for you here — poetry."

Neruda died on the evening of September 23, 1973, at Santiago's Santa María Clinic. His wife moved his body to lay in state amidst the rubble in the couple's Santiago house La Chascona, which had been vigorously ransacked by the armed forces, as a way of drawing attention to the world of what was going on in Chile at that moment. His funeral took place with a massive police presence, and mourners took advantage of the occasion to protest the Pinochet regime.

Matilde Urritia subsequently edited for publication the memoirs that Neruda had been working on up until only days before his death. This and other activities brought her into conflict with the government of Pinochet which tried to surpress the memory of Neruda from the collective consciousness. Her own memoir, My Life with Pablo Neruda, was published posthumously in 1986. Neruda's poetry was outlawed in Chile until the restoration of democracy in 1990.

Neruda owned three houses in Chile; today they are open as museums: La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, and Casa de Isla Negra in Isla Negra, where he and Matilde Urrutia are buried.

Sonnet II

Soneto II (Sonnet II) is from the collection Cien sonetos de amor ("100 Love Sonnets") published in 1959.

Amor, cuántos caminos hasta llegar a un beso,
qué soledad errante hasta tu compañía!
Siguen los trenes solos rodando con la lluvia.
En Taltal no amanece aún la primavera.

Pero tú y yo, amor mío, estamos juntos,
juntos desde la ropa a las raíces,
juntos de otoño, de agua, de caderas,
hasta ser sólo tú, sólo yo juntos.

Pensar que costó tantas piedras que lleva el río,
la desembocadura del agua de Boroa,
pensar que separados por trenes y naciones

tú y yo teníamos que simplemente amarnos,
con todos confundidos, con hombres y mujeres,
con la tierra que implanta y educa los claveles.

Love, how many roads to obtain a kiss,
what lonely wanderings before finding you!
Trains now trundle through the rain without me.
Spring has yet to come to Taltal.

But you and I, my love, are together,
together from our clothes to our bones,
together in Autumn, in our water, at our hips,
until it's just you together, me together.

To think it took all the stones borne by the water,
flowing out of the mouth of the river Boroa;
to think that, held apart by trains and nations

you and I had but to love each other,
with everyone mixed up, with men and women,
with the earth that nurtures the carnations.

Translated by David Short [1] (http://chameleon-translations.com/sample-Neruda-Soneto_II.shtml)

References

  • Adam Feinstein, Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life, Bloomsbury, 2004. (ISBN 1582344108)
  • Pablo Neruda, Confieso que he vivido: Memorias, translated by Hardie St. Martin, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1977. (ISBN 9374206600)

External links

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